Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sang Run Road: Trashing Paradise

My friend Shirley asked me about how I came up with the name Ginseng for Garrett County's literary magazine back in 1997, so I told her about the history of hunting for wild ginseng in these hills, how it was--and still is--worth a lot of money.  The Chinese, especially, value the bitter root as an aphrodisiac and energy booster.  It's become pretty rare in the wild.  It's been cultivated, but that kind isn't worth nearly as much as wild ginseng.  And around here it's pronounced gin-sang, sang for short; hence, Sang Run Road.  And for those of you reading this in New England or elsewhere, "run" is what people in the mid-Atlantic region sometimes call brooks, streams, or rivers. 

Much of my trash picking up so far has been along various stretches of Sang Run, including today.  It is a pristine stream, cool and shady on a hot day, with towering hemlocks and maples above and stretches of wild rhododendron here and there along the banks.  Ferns, mosses, and a wide variety of delicate wildflowers flourish along its banks and floodplain.  There are many sections of it with tiered rock outcrops along the sides, giving it the feel of a cool, damp grotto.  In the sunny spots are large, primeval-looking skunk cabbage--not nearly as large as I saw last summer in Alaska, but still lush and verdant.  There's no poison ivy at this elevation and very few strands of greenbriar to detract from its sweet nature.

In fact, the Nature Conservancy owns a stretch of it, and today I was picking up just upstream from their property.  At first I didn't see much to pick up there.  I mainly stopped because I'd seen a big tarp blown off of a pickup on the side of the road, but I started exploring further in, between the road and the stream, and then across the stream, and I found quite a bit.   I made about eight trips back to my car with my buckets full of bottles and cans and plastic bags, broken glass and shotgun shells.  I also found lots of little pieces of styrofoam in some flood debris, along with woven plastic feed bags and a piece of house siding.  One thing I'm going to have to go back with leather gloves for is a lot of plastic tangled up in barbed wire, complete with a rotten fence post!  So I was doing a lot of jumping to and from mossy stepping stones, balancing on logs, and occasionally bashing my head on rhododendron!  But it was beautiful, and I was glad to be out in the day.

Last Friday I picked up a different section of the road, across the Youghiogheny River.  It's still called Sang Run Road, but it goes up over a mountain ending at Cranesville Road, where you're almost into West Virginia.  That section of the road is remote, mostly state forest land, including a primitive camp ground.  In early spring, I'd seen a lot of trash along this road, so I wanted to go back for it.  The trouble was finding a place to park off the road.  I finally found a spot, but the road looked like someone had cleaned it up!  I was hopeful, but no such luck.  Once you get out walking, you realize that a lot of it has been thrown ten or twenty feet off the road, and plants have leafed out, hiding the mess.  Without ever moving the car, in one hour, I picked up 18 gallons of plastic bottles, 9 gallons of glass bottles, and 18 gallons of trash.

And all this was from a clean-looking, fourth mile stretch of road in the wilderness!  Among the plastic, I found four milk bottles full of animal teeth marks.  Whether they're bear or fox or what, I don't know, but as you can see, wildlife DOES interact with trash and is affected by it!  Three of the bottles are shown here:

The forests of the Appalachian Mountains are unique.  It's the oldest mountain range in the world, and with all its nooks and crannies, varying elevations and amounts of daylight, it is the most diverse forest in the world, more diverse even than rainforests.  And it seems like ever since the logging companies arrived in the 1800s, people have done nothing but rape and trash the land and the rivers through logging, mining, and dumping trash.  Now they're clear-cutting our mountain tops to erect gigantic windmills and messing up the land and water with fracking, and still the dumping of trash continues.

Well, at least Sang Run is a little cleaner today.


  1. Really loving this blog! Learning dialect, geography, and reading someone else dealing with the same issues I'm finding here in Maine. We've got a local farm where we go to get milk/eggs each week. Getting there involves a few country roads in the middle of nowhere. And yet the gullies in the woods on either side of the roads are just trashed. So much garbage in the world, sometimes it really does seem like it's everywhere! But after seeing your blog today, I realize that for now there's a little less in one corner of Maryland.

  2. Your friend Shirley thinks you're amazing. If that Anna Schlonneger character in Sticking Points ( would've picked up trash instead of worried her noodle over botulism and the kooky way they do footwashing at her church, she maybe could've held better onto her sanity.